AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

The New Orleans Pelicans are officially the last team in the 2021-22 NBA playoffs after beating the Los Angeles Clippers 105-101 in Friday’s qualifying tournament.

With that, the whole playoff picture is set. The only other piece of the puzzle entering Friday was determining the final Eastern Conference playoff representative, and that was taken care of when the Atlanta Hawks beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 107-101 earlier in the evening.

It will be a quick turnaround to the playoffs as proceedings begin at 1 p.m. ET on Saturday. The No. 4 Dallas Mavericks will kick off Saturday’s four-game playoff slate with the No. 5 Utah Jazz. The other four playoffs begin on Sunday.

As for the Western Conference, here’s what the bracket looks like alongside some notes on each series.


Western Conference Games: Round 1

No. 1 Phoenix Suns vs. No. 8 New Orleans Pelicans

No. 2 Memphis Grizzlies vs. No. 7 Minnesota Timberwolves

No. 3 Golden State Warriors vs. No. 6 Denver Nuggets

No. 4 Dallas Mavericks vs. No. 5 Utah Jazz


Western Conference Semifinals

No. 1 Suns/No. 8 Pelicans winner against No. 4 Mavericks/No. 5 Jazz Winner

No. 2 Grizzlies vs. No. 7 Timberwolves winner vs. No. 3 Warriors / No. 6 nugget winner


Western Conference Finals

Semi-final winners (higher seed has home advantage)


No. 1 Phoenix Suns vs. No. 8 New Orleans Pelicans

The Phoenix Suns were by far the best regular season basketball team, winning 64 games despite missing Devin Booker, Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton for a total of 55 games.

The defending Western Conference champions are looking to finish the job they started last year when they fell to the Milwaukee Bucks in six games of the NBA Finals.

Meanwhile, the New Orleans Pelicans’ run to the playoffs has been remarkable. They started the year 1-12 but finished above .500 the rest of the way and beat the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers in the playoffs. That was despite star striker Zion Williamson being out all year with a broken fifth metatarsal in his right foot.

Credit to the Pels for even getting here, but the Suns are heavy favorites for a reason in this series and should move on.


No. 2 Memphis Grizzlies vs. No. 7 Minnesota Timberwolves

The timeline of the Memphis Grizzlies accelerated rapidly. They have the deepest team in basketball, hands down, and one of the NBA’s brightest stars in Ja Morant. Memphis doesn’t really have a notable weakness considering how well everyone fits in and fills gaps in the team.

The Minnesota Timberwolves revolve around a line of Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell. Edwards, a sophomore pro, looks like an eternal All-Star and someone who could lead the NBA in scoring one day.

Minnesota could absolutely give Memphis a series if the Towns/Edwards/Russell trio gets to work, but the Grizzlies’ depth feels like the X factor on the surface.


No. 3 Golden State Warriors vs. No. 6 Denver Nuggets

Warriors guard Stephen Curry is ready to return from a sprained ligament in his left foot, although he will have a minute restriction for game 1.

A limited amount of curry is better than no curry at all, of course, and the Warriors are ready to welcome back their star player (25.5 PPG).

Meanwhile, probable NBA MVP Nikola Jokic leads the Denver Nuggets into the playoffs in hopes of a deep playoff run.

He averaged 27.1 points, 13.8 rebounds and 7.9 assists per game on a team that was without Jamal Murray (torn ACL) all season and Michael Porter Jr. (lumbar spine surgery) for all but nine matches.

Jokic might need an All-World performance to keep Denver in this series, but he’s certainly capable of delivering one.


No. 4 Dallas Mavericks vs. No. 5 Utah Jazz

All eyes are on Mavericks superstar point guard Luka Doncic, who is expected to miss Game 1 with a tight left calf. The Mavs are no longer the same team without him (8-9).

On the plus side, the Mavs have home-court advantage and the Jazz enter the playoffs in shock with losses in seven of their last 11 games.

Still, without Doncic, the Jazz are the clear favorites in this series. It’s almost a race against time for the Mavs, who would be favorites with Doncic on the court. It doesn’t help that Game 2 takes place on Monday, so Doncic wouldn’t have much more time to prepare for that one.

As for Utah, it falls to All-Stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert to lead this team out of the doldrums and play more like 2020-21, when the Jazz were the top seed in the Western Conference. If that Utah team reappears, the Mavs will face an even tougher climb.